Supreme Court rejects GOP attempt to defend public charge rule

The court signaled that states could continue efforts in lower district courts to defend the rule

The Supreme Court is seen on January 7, 2021. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
The Supreme Court is seen on January 7, 2021. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted April 26, 2021 at 3:02pm

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected an attempt by a group of Republican governors to defend a Trump-era expansion of a rule that makes it more difficult for immigrants to achieve legal status if they use public benefits.

However, the court also signaled the states could continue efforts in lower district courts to defend the rule.

"We deny the application, without prejudice to the States raising these and other arguments before the District Court, whether in a motion for intervention or otherwise," the high court order said. "The States may seek review, if necessary, in the Court of Appeals, and in a renewed application in this Court."

The public charge rule, finalized in 2019, was initially blocked in district court, but Trump's Department of Homeland Security appealed that ruling. The Biden administration said in March it would not defend the rule, effectively allowing it to die.

The Supreme Court accordingly dismissed the appeals, allowing an Illinois federal court ruling to stand, and DHS formally rescinded the rule.

But last month, 14 Republican attorneys general asked the Supreme Court to allow their states to defend the rule, which they say would cost them more than $1 billion annually if eliminated.

"Because invalidation of the Public Charge Rule will directly harm the States, they now seek to intervene to offer a defense of the rule so that its validity can be resolved on the merits, rather than through strategic surrender," the states wrote in a motion filed March 11.

DHS didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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The public charge rule, which took effect across the country more than a year ago, allows immigration officials to deny green cards to anyone deemed likely to need public assistance, based on the person's past usage of such benefits or factors such as health and education level.

Immigration advocates decried the policy, saying it deters immigrants from taking advantage of public health clinics and other programs they are entitled to out of fear of future immigration repercussions — a particular problem during the coronavirus pandemic.

Beyond cash assistance that has long been grounds for excluding immigrants, the Trump rule expanded the rule to cover Medicaid and other programs such as the Medicare Part D premium, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and housing assistance.

Federal judges in California and Washington had found that the immigration rule is likely illegal, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court upheld those rulings. During Trump's final days in office, his administration asked the Supreme Court to weigh in on the policy's legality.